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Post image for Defense Secretary To Extend Benefits To Gay Military Families, Not All Are Pleased

Defense Secretary To Extend Benefits To Gay Military Families, Not All Are Pleased

by David Badash on February 5, 2013

in DOMA,Don't Ask Don't Tell,News,Politics

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce this week that the Pentagon will extend benefits to gay and lesbian families, supposedly as best it can without being in conflict with DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 that bans the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. But the move is set to please few on either side.

“Gay rights advocates have called for benefits including housing privileges, access to base recreational facilities and joint duty assignments for couples in the military,” the Washington Post reported today:

Legal experts say, however, that the Pentagon will be unable to extend more than 100 benefits while the Defense of Marriage Act remains in place.

The new guidelines will be departing Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta’s final imprint on the armed forces. They will also come on the heels of two landmark changes undertaken under his relatively short tenure: the rescinding of the ban on openly gay service members and the decision to allow women to serve in combat units.

Military officials have struggled with the flurry of equality dilemmas that have emerged since the ban on openly gay service troops was lifted in September 2011, following congressional repeal of the law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

One LGBT service members’ group sees this as a half-measured move, and baffling.

“Secretary Panetta established a strong civil rights record long before taking office at the Pentagon, so his unwillingness to extend support and recognition to gay and lesbian service members and their families where it is clearly within his authority to do so has baffled many of us,” Army Veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson said today via a statement. “We are hopeful that he will not take half-measures here; for him to grant anything less than the full extent of benefits available under current law would be an anticlimactic end to an otherwise exemplary record on civil rights.”

OutServe-SLDN notes “Panetta’s expected successor, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, has committed to move quickly to extend these benefits if confirmed.”

Hagel‘s nomination is looking more likely than ever to be confirmed.

“Senator Hagel made history with his firm and unequivocal commitment of support to LGBT service members and their families, including his promise if confirmed to act expeditiously to grant all benefits available under current law,” Robinson added. “For Secretary Panetta to do anything less at this point would be to leave the job half done, leaving in place a self-imposed two-tier system that willingly denies to some service members benefits they have earned and treats them, their families, and their sacrifice as less than worthy.”

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{ 3 comments }

Alex_Parrish February 5, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Look — it's clear that DOMA needs to go and is very likely on the way out, but it is still the law. Isn't it better to grant as many benefits to military families as can be granted which DOMA is still in effect than to continue to deny military families benefits because not all can be granted immediately? I'm not arguing that military families shouldn't have equal benefits — I just think the DOD is doing what it can at the moment with the repeal of DOMA as the eventual goal. The Defense Department cannot repeal DOMA nor can they ignore it — that would set a terrible precedent and could come back to bite 'em in the @ss later. Just let them do what they can and be glad for that while we work for DOMA repeal..

BJLincoln February 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm

DOMA is on it's way out. So many problems faced by us and the government will just disappear when DOMA dies. There is NO reason to continue to deny the LGBT population equality. We should be covered by anti-discrimination laws, be able to marry and recieve the same goverment benefits.
I think everyone is waiting for the SCOTUS before they make a change. I want to believe SCOTUS is aware of the problems as well as the willingness to make the changes.
So many want to speculate the outcome when we really don't know what they are thinking.
I'm hoping for equality and don't give a rats ass is some are not happy about

CAxlRose February 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Agreed with Alex. Baby steps are still huge steps!

And yes, DOMA is still the law of the land. There's only so much Panetta (or any Defense Secretary for that matter) can do without running afoul of DOMA.

(So much for the "Obama isn't enforcing DOMA!!" talking point that the Baggers have been throwing around for the past two years)….

And while the Windsor case does not have anything to do with military benefits for same-sex couples, this move by Panetta can't help but weaken DOMA even more in the eyes of SCOTUS.

It's been hell chipping away at this big brick DOMA wall for the past 17 years, But we've been chipping. One brick at a time, and one federal court decision at a time.

Can't wait until June when that wall (hopefully) comes crashing down forever.

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